Feature by Jeff Commings
MOUNTAIN View, California, September 21. GETTING inducted into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame and setting more than a dozen world records are big highlights for Carolyn Boak, but neither rank as the top moment in a Masters swimming career that spans more than 30 years.
“It's great, but not as great as meeting and marrying my husband, Tom,” Boak said without a moment's hesitancy. “Swimming is definitely something that we share.”
The two met through what some may deem an unpleasant first encounter, at the 1983 long course nationals in Indianapolis. Carolyn approached Tom, who was one of the organizers, about her disappointment that the women were made to swim the 400 and 1500 freestyles in the facility's other long course pool underneath the main concourse, instead of the main competition pool.
“I unfairly blamed him for it,” she said. “I had come all that way and wanted to swim in the best pool in the country, not the warm-up pool.”
Four years later, they started their relationship on new ground at the United States Aquatic Sports Convention in Atlanta, and they were married in 1989.
Boak had already been making some damage to the record books by that point, known before her marriage as Carolyn Ferris. She was also coaching Masters workouts at Los Altos Swim Club in California. In 2000, the Boaks worked together to turn Woodlands Masters from a tiny recreational team outside of Houston into a club that slowly gained national prominence over the next few years, with numerous swimmers — including the Boaks — winning national titles. More workouts were added, and now the Masters team is on par with the famed diving team and age group swimming team in terms of exposure in the community.
It was the national long course team title in 2007 that Boak ranks as possibly the third-best moment in her Masters career (behind her marriage and Hall of Fame induction). Though Woodlands Masters had a major advantage with the meet held at their home pool, Boak describes that successful weekend as the result of convincing many on the team to train their hardest for the meet.
“Helping coach that (2007) team at The Woodlands was a great moment,” Boak said. “We put a lot of focus on racing, and motivated a lot of our swimmers to get excited about the meet.”
Boak doesn't get to work with the Woodlands team much. She divides her time between southern Texas and the Bay Area in California, where she works as a nurse. The long-distance marriage isn't ideal, Boak says, but she enjoys the time in Texas, saying the extra time available to swim and work as guest coach is a mini-vacation.
In addition to her world record tally, Boak has set more than 50 national records in her Masters swimming career and has been ranked in the top 10 globally for 30 years, but no meet stands out more to her than the 2010 long course nationals in Puerto Rico. She had her most prolific competition there, setting five world records and coming within one hundredth of a second in a sixth event. She attributes it to an increase in her weight training and doing race pace training eight weeks before the event.
And though the world records keep falling at Boak's feet, she knows that a die-hard approach to competition is not healthy for those interested in a long career as a Masters swimmer.
“Unless you are retired or have total control of your schedule, I don't think you can swim at that top level every year,” she said. “If you make a commitment like I did in 2010, you have to let some things go, and you have to get up early and swim before work. That means you get tired because you get up early and then live your life. That's not easy to do year after year.”
But Boak makes it look easy, year after year.
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